A Venice Art Diary


Gallery curator and international art dealer, Jean-David Malat, gives us a personal tour through one of the boldest and most  influential art fairs in the world, the Venice Biennial…

The Venice Biennial, the most prestigious cultural event that presents art in all its forms, gathers thousands of visitors from all over the globe. This year, for the 55th International Art Exhibition, museum directors, curators, artists and auction-house experts came to see and be seen among today’s contemporary art. The main exhibition, The Encyclopedic Palace, took place at the Central Pavilion with 150 artists from 37 countries. Apart from the main show, however, the Biennial had 88 further participants exhibiting, with some countries even participating for the first time. And there was more; satellite events were also taking place, in which various art organizations exhibited in different venues around the city. Endlessly fascinating, to get around it in four days would be quite a challenge…

Detail of Venetians by Pawel Althamer

Detail of Venetians by Pawel Althamer

Wednesday 29 May

I arrived to Venice on a rainy afternoon. Despite the cloudy weather, I knew I had a full day ahead of a global art scene to discover. I started first with the Baku magazine party.  My friend and editor-in-chief, Leyla Aliyeva, was hosting the party on the terrace of one of Venice’s grand hotels, The Westin Europa and Regina.

After a few cocktails, we took a boat from the canal to the Dhaka Art Summit dinner party.  The Samdani Art Foundation, founded by the art collector couple, Nadia & Rajeeb Samdani, hosted the dinner event at the beautiful poolside of the Cipriani Hotel.  Guests included British artist Marc Quinn and the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi. It was a divine dinner and in no small part down to the organisation of Christies!

Jean-David Malat, by Rancinan

Jean-David Malat, by Rancinan

We continued the night to the Palazzo Grassi formal event, where the opening exhibition of Prima Materia was held as well. Organised by François Pinault Foundation, Mr. Pinault hosted 600 guests to wine and dine at the exquisite Punta della Dogana. International guests included fine art dealer David Nahmad, Larry Gagosian, artist Damien Hirst , Salma Hayek, Leonardo Di Caprio and many others from the international art scene . It was a beautiful event with beautiful people in a beautifully exhibited space.

As the night was still young, we moved on to the elegant Bauer Hotel for drinks at Le Baron. Continuing on to the Palazzina Grassi, many of us gathered at Bungalow 8 for an after-midnight soirée. It was a great evening of networking, where all the crème de la crème and biennial art–goers were spotted.

Thursday 30th May

An early morning start at 10am, we attended the opening of The Encyclopedic Palace at the Arsenale. The biennial was bursting with energy and an arty crowd and into which I came across into Indian-born British sculptor Anish Kapoor and artist Ron Arad.

Highlight of the Day: Installation by Pawel Althamer, Venetians 2013 (pictured above)

Polish artist Pawel Althamer showcased at the Central Pavilion with a very captivating installation. Althamer created plastic manufactured figures, where he cast faces and hands of local Venetians. Bonded by plastic ribbons, the life-size figures became a surreal body landscape featuring the people and soul of Venice.

Top of the List, from the Bahamas pavillon, Tavares Strachan’s Constellations series.

Tavares Strachan, Polar Eclipse

Tavares Strachan, Polar Eclipse

Bahamian artist Tavares Strachan, based in the US, exhibited his most recent project about the Polar Eclipse. The exhibition space included various collections such as installation, video, sculpture and collage work by the artist.  Walking through the exhibition, Strachan shares with us his experiences from an expedition to the North Pole. He has created pieces that narrate his journey and explore themes of culture, physical displacement and the evolution of historic discoveries. To me, the artist successfully executes this theme of displacement, both emotional and physically, through geographical and scientific measurements and his work for the Bahamas pavilion beautifully combines art and scientific exploration.

From the Bahamas pavillion, it was over to the Arsenal North for a show entitled Love Me or Love Me Not organized by YARAT, a not-for-profit contemporary art organization based in Baku.  Too many to list here, the show featured recent work by 17 artists from Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey, Russia and Georgia. Artworks that really stood out to me were ‘Kiosk de Curiosite’ by Fahrad Moshiri, a thread installation piece by artist Faig Ahmed and ‘Recycled’ by Aida Mahmudova.

For details of these works and the artists, and more information about Love Me or Love Me Not at Arsenal North, visit the website.

Flussi Immobili by Francesca Leone

Flussi Immobili by Francesca Leone

Friday 31st May

Day 3 starts with a visit to the Giardina venue, where many art enthusiasts wait in line to visited the various pavilions. At the opening of the Cuban Pavillion, which took place at the National Archeological Museum, I meet the beautiful artist Francesca Leone. Leone has also featured her work with us at Opera gallery, in which she creates a series of extraordinarily portraits depicting motion.

Also at the Cuban Pavilion, artist Lore Bert had some interesting work surrounding the theme of Art and Knowledge. Her work was a dialogue between fine arts and the universal heritage of philosophy and literature.

At the Russian pavilion, I witnessed an extraordinary installation piece based on the mythological theme of Danae. Artist Vadim Zakharov, creates a falling shower of gold coins, to make reference to the divine myth about this Greek figure. Through the artistic installation, Zakharov narrates the mythological story of human desire and greed.

Danae by Vadim Zakharov

Danae by Vadim Zakharov

At the British Pavilion with Jeremy Deller, a piece that really grabbed my attention was ‘We sit starving amidst our gold’. The artwork recalls a ‘talked about’ incident at the Biennial two years ago, where Roman Abramovich had parked his large yacht right next to the Giardini quay, blocking the view of many visitors.

To close the day, it’s over to the Pavilion of Azerbaijan, where artist Rashad Alakbarov amazes me with his use of incompatible objects to project shadows. My first encounter was with his installation pieces at YARAT exhibition, Love Me or Love Me Not, where he uses with Plexiglas to create projected words. In this second piece at the Azerbaijan Pavilion, Alakbarov creates an unexpected shadow through a complex installation of iron wires.

Saturday 1st June 

Beyond the Venice Biennial Pavilions, exhibiting shows that are not to miss during the festival are Marc Quinn’s solo exhibition, and group show Fragile.

The Giorgio Cini Foundation hosts both shows on the San Giorgio Maggiore Island in Venice where Marc, a renowned British artist, includes very original sculptures, paintings and other objects. Consisting of over 50 pieces, the artist’s work finds an interest in metamorphic abilities of both human life and nature.

Finally, it’s on to Fragile. This exhibition had a wide collection of artworks by the most intriguing of international figures. The show, featuring works that involved experimenting with industrial fragile material and glass, included more than 30 artworks by some of the most influential artists of our time; Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys, and Damien Hirst to name but a few. It was fitting end to a terrific festival.

Now to plan for next year…

Jean-David Malat is the Director of Opera Gallery London 134 New Bond Street, London W1S 2TF. Their forthcoming exhibition, The Many Faces of David Bowie, runs from 21st June to 31st August 2013.


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